Cabaero: ‘Drug czar’ or ‘anti-drug czar’

Nini Cabaero

IT started when President Rodrigo Duterte said he wanted Vice President Leni Robredo to be the “drug czar” to co-head the nation’s campaign against illegal drugs.

The use of “drug czar” can lead to confusion, even misinterpretation. Filipinos knew what the President meant although he could have been more precise.

There are “housing czar,” “environment czar,” “transportation czar,” “traffic czar,” “budget czar” and many more. The word “czar” has become a popular political term to mean simply the top government person in charge of a particular policy.

There are also the “anti-terrorism czar” or “counter-terrorism czar,” the “anti-disaster czar” and others.

Duterte decided to name Robredo to her new post as “drug czar” after the Vice President said in an interview that Duterte’s anti-illegal drugs policy “obviously wasn’t working.”

The President at first gave her six months but, in the appointment document, said Robredo will be co-chairperson of the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs “until 30 June 2022, unless sooner revoked.” Robredo will lead the government’s nationwide campaign against illegal drugs.

Duterte’s words when he first announced this on Oct. 31, 2019 were: “If I would take her in as the drug czar, I will have to first make her a Cabinet member. Then, I will give her the marching orders and specific functions. All in connection with drugs, kanya (it’s hers).”

Media organizations, national and international, started using “drug czar” as those were the words used by President Duterte.

However, updates or follow-up reports in the next days when Robredo accepted the challenge showed most media accounts changing their usage to “anti-drug czar.”

Since czar could also mean lord or top official, news organizations, in order to be precise, started using term “anti-drug czar.”

Other news accounts have entirely dropped “drug czar” or even “anti-drug czar” from their reports to avoid any confusion. They used, instead, the longer but accurate description of Robredo as co-chair of the inter-agency committee together with Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency head Aaron Aquino.

In Robredo’s first meeting with the inter-agency committee, she was able to bring out to the open what government otherwise would not bother to clarify or, if someone were to raise that question, this person would likely be criticized as a drug trade supporter.

Robredo said after the meeting that she immediately realized there was no clear picture of the extent of illegal drug use in the country. The Dangerous Drugs Board said there are 1.8 million drug dependents but government officials have been using the number of four million individual drug dependents in describing the problem. President Duterte himself had used eight million as the number of drug-dependent Filipinos.

Now that her title is clear, next to shed light on is the true extent of the drug problem, especially after the three years of Duterte’s war on drugs.